April is azalea month here in coastal South Carolina. In our yard we have five different colors, each vying for the title, Most Beautiful.
Azaleas are members of the Heath family, a group of plants dating from 70 million years ago. They grew first in Asia, cultivated at monasteries by Buddhist monks, and according to some sources, first imported and grown outdoors in the United States at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston just after the Civil War.
We have five varieties on plants that are 60 years old. The one above blooms first and is the size of a large car. Behind it you can see a red camellia still in bloom which has been blooming since right around Christmas!
Our shady backyard is deeply lined with magenta azaleas, the last to bloom. The wonderful tree that shades them is a giant Loblolly pine, 90 feet tall with an 11 foot circumference!
Our 154-foot long side yard has three colors interspersed: light pink, bright pink, and white. These light pink ones are huge and they are my favorites.
And as long as they are blooming, I can’t resist bringing big bunches of azaleas into the house and tucking them in every corner!
There is one other thing you should know about the beautiful azalea: it has a dark side. The plant, blossoms, and even the nectar are deadly poisonous! In spite of that, honey made from azaleas, called Mad Honey, was added to drinks in the 1700s to give a more potent high than alcohol. It was described as giving the drinker “the spins”. Of course, one had to keep his or her wits about them and be very careful to drink only a small amount.
Sources say it is still available in Turkey. I don’t think I’ll be trying it!